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NC lottery addiction hotline gets different callers than planned

Apr 5, 2006, 7:22 am

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North Carolina Lottery

Many callers to the toll-free problem gambling hot line set up for North Carolina's new lottery have sought help of another kind.

"We've gotten a lot of calls from people who either don't understand how to play the game or why they didn't win," said Smith Worth, who oversees the help line for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Only about 15 percent to 20 percent of the 600 to 700 callers to the help line since the North Carolina Education Lottery began last Thursday sought information about gambling addictions or counseling, Smith said Tuesday.

There's a separate phone number that lottery players can call to get information on how to redeem winning tickets and regional office locations. But that number isn't listed on the back of tickets where the one for gambling addiction help appears. That's probably why people looking to get their jackpots still are calling, Smith said.

Similar issues exist with problem gambling lines for older lotteries. A Virginia lottery spokeswoman said last summer that the vast majority of calls its help line receives has nothing to do with problem gambling, but more about whether they're going to collect a big check.

"They are actually calling for winning numbers," spokeswoman Jill Vaughan said in August.

Callers to North Carolina's problem gambling line are sent a packet of information designed to help them determine whether they or family members are in need of further assistance. Using an expected $1 million from the lottery commission, the department also will organize a statewide system of counselors and mental health professionals to treat problem gamblers and pay for the service for some patients.

During its first five days in existence, North Carolina's new lottery generated more than $24 million in ticket sales, about $1 million less than what lottery chief Tom Shaheen had hoped to see.

Shaheen didn't know of any particular reason for missing his $25 million target, except maybe Monday's rainstorms, and said he considered these early days a "very huge successful startup."

While comparisons to other states are difficult to make, sales are on par with those of other startup lotteries, said Charles Sanders, chairman of the North Carolina Education Lottery commission. He pointed out that the lottery started six days earlier than the commission had planned, so any ticket sales now are beyond their expectations.

"We're very pleased with what we have produced so far," Sanders said.

About $8.4 million from ticket sales will be set aside for prekindergarten, the public schools and scholarships, since state law requires that at least 35 percent of revenues go to education. Nearly $11.5 million in prizes have been redeemed, a lottery spokeswoman said.

The $5 "Carolina Cash" tickets have generated the most revenues at $7.5 million through Monday, a lottery news release said. Two people had won the game's 10 top prizes of $100,000 as of Tuesday.

More than 5,000 retailers are selling four different kinds of lottery tickets, though improper wiring or machine malfunctions at times have kept some places from selling tickets, Shaheen said. Two new instant games could be released as early as next week, adding to the four already on shelves, he said.

Once the initial excitement ebbs, he said, "we're going to need to get more products out on the street." The lottery could release a couple of new games every two to three weeks and have more than 30 games in place in the next year, Shaheen said.

The lottery commission now is working toward starting up to offer the Powerball multistate numbers game by May 30.

The North Carolina Lottery's toll free problem gambling help line is (877) 718-5543. The player hot line is (877) 962-7529.

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